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Chibok: Story of a community subdued by tragedy

Sandwiched between hills and a large expanse of lush vegetation, Chibok town looks serene, especially to those who love communing with nature. Though now busy…

Sandwiched between hills and a large expanse of lush vegetation, Chibok town looks serene, especially to those who love communing with nature.

Though now busy with commuters, cyclists and military vehicles driving around the community, Chibok used to be a tightly knit community that rarely received visitors. People knew one another as they lived a communal life.

However, with the kidnap of over 250 secondary school students in 2014, this picturesque community became awash with different kinds of visitors, security operatives, media practitioners and non-governmental organisations.

So much was the attraction to Chibok, following the abduction, that famous figures like the former US first lady, Michelle Obama, Malala Yousafzai, Angelina Jolie and others, joined a social media campaign with a hashtag #Bringbackourgirls.

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Every year, on this day, people from all walks of life visit Chibok, turning it into a Mecca of sorts. Journalists go there to report the hope and despair of the victims’ families, especially of those still in captivity.

Ten years on, Daily Trust went back to Chibok, to capture the mood of the parents of the victims and other persons living in the community, which is home to over 65,000 people.

Our correspondent, who walked through the sleepy town, shared in the pains, sorrow and hardship that residents endure, every passing day.

Going down memory lane while growing up in Chibok, Alice Thomas said life is no longer free for people living in the community. She said things have changed drastically.

“Before now, our evenings were filled with local games and folklore. Today, everyone is forced to stay indoors,” she said.

Thomas lamented that since the abduction of Chibok girls, the town has retarded, instead of growing.

“The electricity we used to have is no longer here; we now live in perpetual darkness,” she said.

She decried the fact that the town has deplorable access roads and poor mobile network. Thomas wondered why the town has remained primitive despite the seeming attention of the world on it.

“If you people care about our plight, you should help in bringing infrastructural development to this town,” she said.

Angry locals also alleged that the town has been turned into a money spinner by journalists and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), who they claim are doing very little to get their children released.

“No more free interviews. Any journalists that want us to speak must pay. We are tired of you people coming without seeing any result,” a man who refused to disclose his identity said.

Navigating through Chibok, the community is flooded with security operatives. By 6:30 pm, soldiers shut the town’s gate, and nobody can go in or come out.

From the entrance and exit points of the community, two mega checkpoints are prominent, which help the military in their work.



Soldiers militarising Chibok

Unlike the villages before Chibok town, where residents  carry out their daily activities freely, the whole Chibok environment has been militarized. Soldiers are seen everywhere, such that one cannot easily navigate his or her way without being stopped and questioned by the security operatives.

A resident of the area, who prefers anonymity, complained that the tight security situation in the area has prevented insurgents’ attack, but strangulated economic activities in the town.

“Chibok was an agricultural hub, grains merchants used to come from different parts of the country to buy produce, but since the abduction of the school girls’, things changed. Nothing is moving in the community now,” he said.

Daily Trust correspondent observed that people cannot trade as much as they want as a lot of business men and women now avoid the town.

It was also observed that all major economic activities only happen in the afternoon, and once it’s evening, traders hop on their bicycles to begin their journey back home.

Just an hour in the town, one can easily understand and adjust to its routine.  Families are mostly indoors or in clusters under tree shades, discussing. Aside that, no fun activities in the town.

Many families interviewed said, until the rainy season sets in, people don’t go to farms, not even for irrigation purposes, to avoid falling victims of attacks by insurgents who live behind trenches that encircle the town.

“But, once the rainy season begins, we get the security cover to cultivate our fields, afterwards, we can’t go outside the trenches”, a resident said.

At evenings, security become heightened in the town, as the military operatives mount positions around the trench and ensure no one goes in or out of the town.

It is worthy of note that beyond the Chibok town lies a long stretch of Sambisa forest, a path that the Boko Haram terrorists allegedly took when they melted into the thick vegetation with the school girls.

Scary, difficult journey to Chibok 

The journey to Chibok from Maiduguri, a 125.5 km distance, is scary, especially for first timers, who must pass through the ruins of Boko Haram attacks.

At Tashar Kano motor park in Maiduguri, where vehicles load to convey passengers to Chibok, the drivers lamented the security challenges they face along the route.

Our correspondent, who set out for a journey to Chibok, had to shelve it for the next day for security reasons.

“No matter the urgency, one can get stuck at this park for security reasons or be delayed by the deplorable road conditions. We always have to wait for the military to clear the road every day before we take off, and sometimes, the journey can be shifted to another day,” a driver said.

Our correspondent noted that a passenger traveling to Chibok is always filled with suspense.

He noted that one cannot be sure of when to set out for the trip because the commercial drivers work based on the instructions of the military.

Going through the dusty road track, which runs alongside Sambisa forest, with side views of destroyed and deserted villages, it was gathered that it takes passengers a minimum of six hours to complete the 125km journey.

Stop and search activities occur at military checkpoints and there are about six of them before arriving Mbalala town, a community close to Chibok.

However, it was observed that driving to Yola from Chibok is safer, though one can notice how porous the neighboring villages are, with a few being under siege by Boko Haram insurgents.

The hope of most residents of Chibok, who spoke to our correspondent is that normalcy returns to the community soon.

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